Last year, a Boston news station, WCBV 5 reported about the rise in snowplow accidents happening around its city at alarming rates, attributing it mainly to drivers’ fatigue. One plow contractor interviewed, Joe Lamacchia, was heard saying: “When you’re behind the wheel of a plow, the obstacles and hours can be endless. It’s like 1,000 decisions you have to make every second. And we make those decisions often times with little to no sleep. Our crew averaged 18 to 24 hours each yesterday and I’ve heard guys in other crews doing 40-50 hours straight. It’s insane.”
According to OSHA, there are no federal standards for the amount of time a plow driver can work in one shift. It’s really up to the states or municipalities to mandate standards. The City of Boston, for example, limits all its drivers, contractors or city employees, to 16-hour shifts with two 30-minute breaks.
At Troy Clogg Landscape Associates, 35 miles northwest of Detroit, snow removal is 24/7 with routes structured so teams can take care of a typical two- to three-inch snowstorm in approximately six hours. “We spend a lot of nights working,” says Troy Clogg’s Operations Director Matt Scott .”We start training our teams early on about taking care of themselves and getting proper rest. We work in teams so we can monitor each other, and we tell them it’s okay to take a break.
A recent Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study asserts that communication between drivers and their dispatchers or central office personnel is critical when trying to manage the amount of time a driver works after reporting fatigue. Office personnel, for example, need to be in tune to detect if a driver is suffering from fatigue or drowsiness. It even recommends using fitness-for-duty tests involving technologies to measure a driver’s cognitive abilities before they even begin their shift. Another option is the use of technologies aimed at prevention, such as in-vehicle video and vehicle computer sensors that record data and evaluate driver performance.
BCLS Landscape Services in Central Virginia most often plows after midnight, and its managers are expected to stay in the trenches with drivers as long as it takes. It’s important to schedule shifts so plow drivers don’t start or end during the circadian low between 2-6 a.m. “If you can plan enough labor, I recommend shift work so you can relieve crews after long assignments,” says BCLS COO Howard Rose.
“Sometimes all they need is food and maybe a shower,” says snow and ice removal consultant John Allin in Erie, Pennsylvania. He recommends meal breaks at least every 6-8 hours. “Sometimes, letting them sleep (maybe in a hotel room) for a couple hours makes for a new man. Many companies, if they know the storm is going to be long, will reserve rooms at a local and use them as a way station for workers to take a break at. Feeding them is paramount to keeping strength and ward off fatigue.”
Allin knows a snow removal company that converts short school buses to be stocked with food, water and soda, and they travel from jobsite to jobsite offering up those incidentals often perceived as perks by the workers.